Pub. Date: August 2, 2016
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Pamela Dorman Books!)
Summary: How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally–a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly–whose condition is deemed undiagnosable–is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior guru Scott Bean for a solution. But what they discover in the woods of New Hampshire will push them to the very limit.
Genre: Contemporary, Family Drama, Fiction
After the oldest daughter is kicked out of (yet another) school, the Hammond family has no choice but to pack up their belongings and move from their DC neighborhood to a remote summer camp in the New Hampshire wilderness. Tilly is 13 and has an undiagnosable condition, though doctors have all agreed she’s somewhere on the autism spectrum. She’s a genius with little to no grasp of societal norms – she curses like a sailor and makes wildly inappropriate jokes, sometimes forgets to use eating utensils, and frequently interrupts others in conversations. She’s been passed around from school to school, finally ending up at a pricey private school that focuses on special education and, to her mother’s relief, things seem to be going well. Unfortunately, just a few short months later, Alexandra and Josh find themselves in yet another principal’s office being told the school cannot help their daughter.
At the end of her rope, Alexandra comes across a new age-y parenting guru, Scott Bean. Scott’s seminars and blog are wildly popular and he specializes in child behavior, particularly those children thought to be beyond help. Eventually Alexandra reaches out and, after a few years of meetings and lectures, the Hammonds are invited to be one of the founding members of Camp Harmony. Not long after arriving, however, they quickly discover the camp isn’t all it seems.
Harmony is told through the eyes of Alexandra and Tilly’s younger sister Iris, and I cannot begin to express what a fantastic job Parkhurst did at capturing their voices, their emotions. Alexandra’s chapters were eye-opening: I’m not a parent, but her anguish and frustration over not being able to help her child hit deep and I could easily get inside her mind and feel her helplessness as Tilly has a tantrum in the supermarket and marvel at her sometimes saintly patience as she calmly explains to Tilly that no, those words are not appropriate for a little girl to be using. Her chapters also show the strain Tilly’s condition has taken on her marriage and everything was laid out bare and unflinching. Through it all, however, her love for Tilly never falters and it’s because of that love that Alexandra talked her husband into uprooting the family and moving to the campground.
Iris, on the other hand, was such a wonderfully-written eleven-year-old. She loves her sister although she can’t help but feel annoyed and upset over leaving her stuffed animals and iPad behind just so Tilly can get help at some camp. In many ways Iris has taken on the role of the older sister and that constant pressure to always be “the good kid” weighs heavily on her shoulders. Her voice came through loud and clear and I loved every moment spent with her.
Along with Scott, the Hammonds permanently live with two other families in cabins while the guests only stay for a week at a time and Parkhurst doesn’t leave any of these families hanging. Each family has a child that also suffers from a developmental disorder or behavioral issue and, while I can’t speak from experience, Parkhurst seems to know her stuff. Each character felt real and genuine and she clearly did her research.
For the duration of the novel, Harmony seemed to be fairly easygoing and read just like I was peering into the everyday lives of the characters. It wasn’t until the end that the book kicked things into high gear and WOW. I won’t give any spoilers, but holy moly, I was absolutely hooked and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!
Harmony is a quiet, beautiful, haunting novel that sneaks up on you. Parkhurst nailed the characterization and the perspectives were bursting with emotion. I could feel the love and frustration and anger and helplessness pouring through with each page and by the time that phenomenal ending arrived I was utterly gone. While not action-packed, Harmony is a fantastic look into the lives of a family of a child with autism. It’s not a book I would have normally chosen, but I’m so glad I read this one.
Penguin wants YOU to experience Harmony too and is giving ONE lucky winner their own copy!! All you need to do is fill out this form and I’ll announce the winner Sunday, August 14! Good luck!